16 Oct 2017

Load Must Go

Before 71 war, and for a few years afterwards in 43 Sqn at Jorhat, flying Daks, when I was a ‘Pitot Tube' & afterwards a Godzilla 'Fying Officer’, none had ever heard about the strange secretive group called ‘Directorate of Flight Safety’ in Air HQ.  They were like Free Masons, recognised only by code words and by hand grips, when they caught 'nones' throat and said the pass word, ‘Goch Ya’, to send the 'nones' to  the firing squad.  

The clarion call in Jorhat was, ‘The Load Must Go, and  fall on the DZ’. The  load to be dropped was decided by some unknown person, or thing, called 'Raso' which at that time none knew was the Rear Airfield Supply Organization. The nones only knew that it was the mighty  Raso  who decided what, or how much, was to be carried, to where daily, day in and day out, all days of the month. Every squadron had a monthly impossible target set by Raso on how many tons of 'thingamado' were to be dropped in a month. If someone didn’t drop it on a particular day as Raso dictated, for whatever reason, others had to go and do double time to do it or die, ‘the load must go and fall on the DZ’, was an inviolable order given by this secretive thing, Raso .

Raso were a union of mysterious men in the twilight zone, much like Dte of FS in Air HQ. The load for the Dak could be anything. Usually Aatta, Maida, Sugar, Rice, etc in 55 kg  double sewn jute bags, Kerosene or Rum in Jerry cans, live goats and chicken in wooden cases attached with parachutes.  Yes, there were also coins in a boxes, Dalda Tins, all attached with parachutes. The jute bags, piled one on top of the other, 6 at a time, were kicked out of the open door of the Dak  and generally fell on the Dropping Zone (DZ). Rum and Coin boxes were jury rigged with parachutes that had its vocal chords cut, or detached,  never failed to not open, smashing itself into the ground silently in inaccessible valleys. There was no effort to check why the parachutes didn’t open. The load was usually loaded when the air crew lined up for their traditional piss under the wing, and hence had no clue of what was the load, they simply signed the manifest. It wasn’t our reason to ask ‘how, why, when, where or what’, but simply to  drop the load where Raso told us to ‘go do it and die’, mostly in deep interiors of NEFA or in Naga Land. 49 Sqn did the same things in other parts of North East, all the way south to Chura-Chandpur, where there were very pretty girls. 

Though we had only 10  Daks in 43 Sqn, we had around 150 odd pilots, even those guys who refused to go back after 71 wartime mobilization, because of temporary duty allowance and free rations, specially rum at 1 ½ Rs / batli (coke at Rs 3/batli) and salary of a Pitot Tube Rs 315 / pm. Of these, only 15% pilots believed in the motto, ‘load must go & drop on the DZ’. These were the ‘Us’ kind, the DCO kind (Duty Carried Out). The rest were ‘Them’, the DPCO kind (duty partially carried out) or DNCO kind (duty not carried out). We had an authorisation book to keep track of 'Us & Them'. 

Obviously the flying programme, which was an A3 size cardboard covered with talc sheet, scribbled with China Graph pencil,  was tampered with daily by one of us rascals, to ensure that only ‘Us’ flew and ‘Them’ stayed happily on ground.  So the 15% were the kind, who with utter disregard to personal safety, or that of the crew or that of the meagre supply of irreplaceable WW-II Daks, went and did it just to write DCO in the authorisation book. That was our raison d'etre. None wrote citations for medals for the ‘Us’ type of nones, though lots of citations for medals were written by the ‘Them’, mostly by themselves. 

Because of the  DCO mentality, we went through bad weather, extreme turbulence, single engines, over load or bad loading with no ‘bill of lading’, bad navigation that got the Dak lost inside one way valleys, a horde of reasons that led to increasing fatal accidents. Around 1974/75, the fatal accidents rose to alarming levels and one day the Free Masons descended down from the sky over Jorhat, grabbing our juggler and saying the pass word, ‘Goch Ya’. 

The result was that I was made a Flt Safety Officer (besides o i/c piggery), both were never seen or heard species in the wild life of the Eastern AF. I had no  clue  of what is to be done, either to the pigs or to make flying  safe, unless the ‘Us' turned to 'Them', the DNCO/DPCO kind,  and sacrificed our bounden duty to DCO and die. 

Among the many things I was asked to do as newly minted Flight Safety Officer, to prevent accidents, I was also asked to draw cartoons and invent catchy slogans, and paste them everywhere, to augment Flight Safety.  My first cartoon had a Dak sitting on its belly with a caption, ‘Fly Safe’. I was asked to tear it down immediately and put a more tearjerker story board. So the next cartoon I drew was a coffin, with a caption, ‘Claim Free Airfare Home’. 

I was removed as Flt Safety Offr forthwith and never had  to cross the floor from ‘Us to Them’ for the rest of my career in IAF. Quite frankly, I still don’t know  anything about flying safe, it was a dangerous profession, for which we got 6 tins of condensed milk and 4 cartons of Amul Chocolate every month. They made me very popular with all the girls in Jorhat and Dibrugarh, and helped acquire the most sought-after chutzpah, even without  wearing a wing or regalia on my overalls !!.

I wish I  could do  it all over again !!!


21 Aug 2017


Maths was my waterloo, which prevented me from becoming Napoleon.

My father PEG was Ramanujam, the decimal man. While he was not administering Karachi, when I was yet to line up as an embryo in his scrotum, he spent all his time writing maths books, ‘Teach Yourself Maths’ series, five volumes, which became the first Maths Ram text books in Independent India as well as well as Pak. Unfortunately, when my turn came to line up as an embryo post-independence, my father did not pass any of his DNA to me, reason why I was Musth Ram and not Maths Ram. 

At ‘Amba-La-Puzha’ where I was born and grew up, when  I was rearing to go and be  the goal keeper in the local junior communist football league match (with a tennis ball) on Sunday mornings, my father  would snigger, ‘Come, let us prove zero is not equal to  zero’; which was  his  funniest joke. 

As I grew  up, under the shadow of the comely Marxist terrorist  Miss Kunnikkal Ajitha, nurtured and tutored  by the Rasputin EMS Bumboo-Thiri-Pad, I became allergic  to  many people besides my father; Pythagoras, Calculus and Arithmatix in particular - all of them considered to be anti-people, all Maths Rams. Sadly, my father deposed my Napoleonic ambitions and sent me to  St Elba (Rimc), where I  was fed scotch eggs, like slow lead poisoning of Napoleon, to kill the commie worms in my tummy and turn me from vermin to soldier, still with  a grudge towards  my father, Pythagoras, Calculus and Arithmatix, the Maths Rams of my life. I didn’t have to worry about Mathematrix or curvaceously comely  Cos Theta, just the silly 1/ 60 rule of navigation, till I decided to become a test pilot at the age of 32.

In the outback of Bidar, where I was posted as a flying instructor, salvation was in Papnash and Nanak Jeera. Life became difficult on a salary of around Rs 850, especially when  my tiny son  started eating  like ‘Bhima’, one  tin of  baby food in two days. It made me bankrupt.  After a combined visit to  Papnash and Nanak Jeera, I got salvation, enlightenment. ‘Do A2 and go to Iraq, Saddam will take care of you’,  the Gods whispered in my ears. So I dusted the old copies of IAP 124, FIS précis, and the ‘Naval Aviator’s Ki Voh’, but got stumped by illustrious finger master Punia Sir who took the viva, mother of all A2 tests.

He  asked, ‘Why are golf balls dimpled’ ?
‘I have no  clue’, I told him seriously. ‘I don’t play golf, only football with a tennis ball’.
He  gave me another chance.
‘Why do bowlers vigorously rub one side, same side of the cricket ball, on their crotch, before they bowl ?’.
‘Perhaps they have a Dhobi’s itch ?’, I  suggested with wit and a QFI’s ‘fault finding’ wisdom, hopping to be sent to Iraq. I was going to add ‘Elementary Dr Watson’, but didn’t, because of Saddam’s wet dreams were not supposed to have humour in it.

Punia told me to go learn Kutta’s theorem and Magnus effect, the things that happen  in boundary layer. He told me to go befriend Maths Ram Mathematrix, whom I had avoided even in FIS.  In any case, the Gods in Papnash and  Nananjeera had given same enlightenment to every man and beast in Training Command, starting from the C-in-C to the AF police at the railway gate in Bidar which doubled as the quarter guard. The same Saddam wet dreams. The queue was very long, from Trg Cmd to AEB in Hindon.  I realised that by the time my turn came, my son would have grown a moustache between his legs despite my bankruptcy.

So I went again to Papnash and  Nanank jeera, bribed Lord Shiva with go-go nuts, put 50 Naya Paisa into Jeera Hundi, and sought further advice. Despite many appeals, the Gods were silent. Apply, apply no reply.  Several days later, it was the ghost of Kutub Shahi Sultan Qasim Barid who gave me good advice. ‘Go  become a TP, you will get Rs 400 per month, a 50% pay hike’.

So it was that I turned up in ASTE begging to be made a TP. They promptly handed me two question papers, and gave me an hour to answer each. The first was about flying and aeronautics, not difficult for a QFI with Saddam dreams. But the second one was pure Maths Ram, with Pythagoras, Trignometrix, Calculus, ‘Tadka Marke, with Khatta Nimbu and no salt’.

I could hear my late father’s ghost snigger, ‘come, let us prove zero  is not equal  to zero’.  I scored zero, because the only thing  I wrote on the answer  sheet, my service number, it wasn’t even a prime number. ‘Go learn Maths and come back  again’, venerable W/C (Later Air MShl) Philip Sir counselled. He was even kind to take me to the library, and loan me about  25 volumes of Abbot’s ‘Teach Yourself Maths Ram’.

While lugging 50 kg of Maths Ram, I missed my father for the first time. He had facilitated seedlings of independent India with only 5 volumes of his Maths Ram, and here I was lugging 25 volumes of Abbot Ki Voh. My Dad’s ghost was nowhere around to consult with, and Kutub Shahi was allergic to the curvaceous Cos Theta.

My wife helped teach me count backwards and forwards using Naya Paisa instead of abacus. She went on to teach me multiplication tables too,  ‘Do  Bata Do, Panch’. Soon she became PhD and I remained King of Zero. It took me about 6 months to become a Maths Ram, befriend Pythagoras, Calculus and Arithmatix and  Mathematrix, even the curvaceous Cos Theta. Yes, I also converted my service number to a prime number. To cut a long story short, I passed the Maths Ram test, by the skin  on my teeth. Immediately Philip Sir  told me to go learn French, which was worse than Maths Ram. Learnt that too, in Alliance Francaise  B’lore.

And that is how I became an ETP from EPNER in France, a Maths Ram using the same logic of ‘Bolivian Algebra’.

19 Aug 2017

Eject, Eject …………….

 After 8 yrs service, flying Daks and Mi4s, about 2400 hrs as 1st pilot, around 3800 hrs on the bottom line, I was sent to FIS to turn from pupa to butterfly, to become a QFI. I went to Tambaram, thinking I was a super stud with a smoking gun. Within a week the establishment used dry ice, deep froze and turned me into a worm with no  self-esteem, perhaps the first step towards beginning of any new learning process, without an attitude. I had no problems re-learning the incredible art of flying the HT-2, and was very comfortable with it unlike my counterpart fighter jocks who had palpitations while flying them. But the  HJT Kiran was something new for me and required much heaving and hoving on my part, nerve wracking palpitations and deep breathing, which could be heard loud  and clear on the intercom, and all the way to Air HQ even without intercom.
 Each HJT those  days had its own handling characterises and none behaved in the same disciplined manner. Indiscipline was rampant even amongst aircraft. I felt acutely claustrophobic in the air tight  cockpit and  was frightened of sitting on an ejection seat, since I was not  used to such a contraption earlier. I kept  thinking, what if the ejection seat fired on its own ?’ !!! Perhaps it was a common phobia  with all non-fighter jocks those days. I confess that I did contemplate not taking the ruddy safety pins out, but the conscientious ground crew were very zestful and  would not close the canopy till they had counted the pins in my hand and made sure that I put  them in my pocket before they closed the hatch.
 Because of the exceptional teaching skill of late Sengupta Sir, an A2 instructor awaiting Iraq tenure,  I was cleared 1st  &  2nd  solo on schedule  on HT2 & HJT without  a glitch. Sengupta was a silent instructor, he was a man of  few words and didn’t offer to teach me, ‘I will show you how’ type of pitter-patter !! He believed that given a chance I would learn on my own. I  did have a major problem learning to do barrel rolls, which usually started as a wing over, turned to a loop, and ended in a spin. I learnt this  manoeuvre finally from venerable Gals (Sr) Sir, who got arthritis and diver’s bends trying to show me how  to barrel using his  hands. We didn’t have model a/c with a danda up its chuff those days in  FIS and the articulation of the elbows had a limit for teaching aerobatics like a barrel roll !!

Then disaster struck. I was programmed the next day for a solo sortie on HJT, with a 75 kg kit bag dead weight on the other seat, a 45’ sortie profile involving solo 3 turn spin & aerobatics on tow line Gudwancheri,  return, do an over shoot and land back.
 Our  daily routine in FIS was met briefing and a 45 mts quiz test of emergencies by then Flt Cdr, venerable  Chilly Rao Sir starting at 0445, mainly to emphasise that one’s silly cheap Casio digital aircrew watch, that couldn’t and wouldn’t keep time with Big Ben,  was the only instrument worth monitoring in the cockpit. I  think Chilly Sir had too many Bingo warning  lights in his life except at the bar where he did ample mid-air refuelling !! The briefing was usually followed by flying till lunch time and classes on aeronautic subjects in the post lunch session till 1730 hrs.  Some evenings, night flying too, after day flying and classes.
Most of us married types lived in a then nameless, address-less, horrible colony, two  rooms  with an ‘Indian Commodore’ to bomb poo in haunching posture,  near what  is now Chinmaya Colony, a 45 mts drive from FIS on my ‘Hamara Bajaj’. My wife had aborted take-offs three times in a married life of less than two years because of my smoking gun, bumpy roads and Hamara Bajaj. Because she was pregnant again (smoking gun) she was advised bed rest during the fourth time, when we reported to FIS. So it was my job to cook, clean, sew, knit, whatever……..while doing pitter-patter’ nonstop. My wife helped, knew it by heart while  I didn’t, and would often comment, ’Ayyo, so  stupid idiot, during stall you are supposed to say, feel the aircraft juddering’, while I was juddering trying to sweep swap under the bed at 0300 hrs before met briefing and ‘Kaun Banega Murga’ quiz contest by Chilly Sir with greater aplomb than Big B !!!   Evenings, my incredibly hungry nephews or thirsty bachelor course mates would drop in and I  had to cook Beef Biriyani and act like ‘Uncle’ the barman in Poona, pour myself as much or more than my guests.
I just didn’t have time to learn ‘pitter or patter’, or learn any lesson from the most interesting and enjoyable lectures of Wg Cdr Rao Sir, the Nav instructor who had mischievous intensions to make us QNIs and not QFIs.  CO FIS Ubgade Sir, unsuccessfully tried to teach us precession of gyroscopes, holding a pointer above his head and rotating his hips like Hellen doing ‘Mera Nam Chi Chinn Chu’. But our gyros were rigid and refused to precess or process Kutta’s theorem and Magnus effect from Naval Aviator’s ‘Ki Pen Di Who’, the Bible fished out and smuggled from test pilot’s school in Patuxent River. We generally  slept in class because afternoons were siesta time in RIAF. The strategic location to sleep in class, learnt in NDA, was the front row;  right under the instructor’s nose. The only persons  who didn’t sleep in class was my cm NV Tyagi,  and the youngest in the batch, Raha. Both used precession and rigidity to navigate and climb to flight levels DCAS/CAS; rest of us either killed ourselves or retired due to  lack of any knowledge, to learn or to teach.
Just joking !!!
 It was a rainy day when I  was programmed for 3rd solo and took a while for  the  weather to clear.
So I signed the F-700, walked to  the HJT emulating a fighter pilot’s zestful gait during a scramble, kicked the tyres, peeped into the poo hole jet pipe, noted the number of asymmetric saw tooth vortex generators on and under the wing (very sharp to touch or fondle), jumped into the cockpit, buckled up, hesitantly  took out  the pins to show off to the  ground crew that I had courage to sit on the hot seat. They closed the hatch and  incarcerated me in the HJT, no escape. So I pressed the tit, released brakes, fondled the ‘Dooshang’, and was ready to go, looking for tryst with my destiny.
 I lined up on the dumbbell, arrow  straight, held the Kiran on brakes, opened full throttle. I checked my watch to see if it was still working,  just as Chilly Sir had told me to, and let go the brakes. The HJT rolled down the centre line without my intervention. I only looked at my watch and not the ASI, as Chilly Sir had advised during ‘Kaun Banega Murga’ quiz contest, without ‘phone a friend’ option.
I was just getting ready to pull back and unstick when I got ‘Hicum Fookum’,  sudden vertical rush of poo, from butt to brain . The A/C was on fire. Smoke was billowing out  of  the air  conditioning ducts below the instrument panel. I was just about to pull the ejection handle when I remembered that HJT didn’t have ground level ejection. So I unstuck and climbed like a bat out of hell. In my panic, I also forgot to  give a  mayday call, but did remember to raise the undercarriage.
I hauled on the straps, looked at my watch, straightened my spine, sat erect, reached for the ejection handle between my legs and pulled.  Sadly it was not the ejection handle that I was holding and violently pulled, but my precious  gonads. I screamed. The trachea and eustachian tube choked the juggler and the upward flow of poo, hicum  fookum stopped. The HJT kept climbing without any intervention from me.
 When hicum fookum stopped, my wits returned, I began to look around and not get overwhelmed by the cheap Casio digital air crew watch. All cockpit instruments appeared normal and there were no  warning lights blinking at me. Strangely the smoke coming out of the air conditioning duct had  no smoky smell. When I crossed 5 or 6 thousand feet, smoke stopped coming out  from the ducts. The  smoke was just condensation, I remembered that it was a wet, rainy and humid day.
 I then went and did whatever I  was to  do over Goodwancheri and landed back without any fuss.  Became a QFI without much ado.
 On a  recent Indigo flight from Hyd to Mumbai, after take-off, the  passenger sitting next to me, started shouting ‘fire, fire, fire’. Smoke was seen coming out of the  air conditioning duct behind the overhead baggage compartments. He had hicum fookum. So I told him to eject, by  grabbing and tugging his gonads. His trachea and eustachian tube choked the juggler and the upward flow of poo, hicum  fookum stopped. But it gave him erectile dysfunction like me. No more smoking guns.

 Be careful, look what you are holding, before you pull the ejection handle between the legs !!!

4 Jun 2017

‘Unniz Turning Beez’

During the hyper stage of ex ‘Brass-Tacks’ (BT) in 1986, when war seemed imminent, 104 (an Anti-Tank Guided Missile Unit - ATGM) was deployed near No 6 (Independent) Armour Brigade, on featureless sandy terrain south of Suratgarh (no helipad, just bloody sand). We were completely dependent on the Brigade HQ to give us water, food, cooking utensils, fire wood, tambu, bucket, dry sanitation WC,  aviation fuel, SS-11 missiles, batmen, field protection, candles, mugs,  plate, fork & spoon, vehicles, communication land line with field telephone, bunkers with Charpoy, field camouflage netting, picks and shovels to dig trenches, ………..whatever, long list, for around 22 AF officers and 70 air men; essentials required to live in the dessert to fight another day. 

You see, the AF operates on a ‘Mother Syndrome’ with air bases acting as Mother. One just has to fly from base to base, go to Mummy (the Chief Operations Officer or Chief Adm Ofiicer) and tell him, ‘Ma…., I am  hungry’. They take care of you. But 104 was kicked out of air bases and told to go fight with the army. Army has ‘Step Father Syndrome’, no mother to report to. In 104, we had never heard of WET (war equipment table) the big list, that enables all army units to Platoon level, to live in a ditch in Timbuktu and run overnight to fight in  Burkina Faso, without Mummy, just WET.  

We did go to 6(I) Armd Bde HQ and beg the venerable Commander, ‘Ma…, I am hungry’. But he acted like Father without Mother. Told us to stay far away from him, lest we steal his prized dry sanitation porcelain WC with pig attached. The tragedy was that the army, though kind and helpful, had none of their WET to spare, they had themselves got into the battle mode, constantly on the move. So we had to beg borrow and steal, live off the land, often capturing tiny desert hamlets vacated by villagers who had panicked fearing war and had run away. 6(I) Armd Bde also had this nasty habit  of daily running away from us, without any notice, into new highly camouflaged dugouts, miles away from  the previous one, leaving us like headless chicken. So every morning we had to first fly a reconnaissance mission to find 6(I) hiding under camouflaged nets to beg them for WET and also what they wanted us do in war.

‘I am busy, go play with Col GS’, the Cdr 6(I) would counsel like a benevolent father without mother.
When Col GS was approached, he would counsel, ‘Oh go play outside, do whatever you want’, like mother preparing for coitus with father.

So we made war on our own, along the IB, converting the young boys into 2, 3, and 4 helicopter ‘combat leaders’ to lead attack formations, mostly at 25 feet. 25 feet was important. That was to keep ourselves below the enemy radar, the sneaky Air Defence type, and approach radar buggers, under camouflaged nets at Suratgarh. They had a nasty habit of daily reporting to Air-I and C-in-C Western Air Command in Delhi that 104 was uncontrolled nasty cavaliers ruining the ‘Air Space Management’ in TBA.  At 25’ we were phantoms of the sky, none knew where we were or what we did. Great fun pretending to shoot Indian army tanks and hay stacks where ever we could find one, with dud missiles that had no batteries.  We didn’t see any Pakis about, and hence couldn’t scare them with the dud missiles.

This story is really not about BT.   It is about ‘Unniz Turning Beez’. So here we go.

On a freaking hot day during BT, while the Pak and Indian armies were doing sensible siesta under camouflaged netting, I volunteered to ferry an ATGM  Chetak, whose rotor had got damaged by a stone, back to Sarsawa (Saharanpur) and bring back another one, by evening.  The CO W/C JK Kaushik  asked me to  take along a troublesome younger Rimcolian YS, a year junior to me, whose ambition was to be an investment banker, not a pilot, though he wore a wing and claimed flying bounty. ‘Only you can sort him  out’, the CO told me, ‘make him fly’.
So I dragged YS by his elbow to the helicopter.

‘Do you want to fly ?, I asked  YS when we were strapped up in the cockpit.
‘He, he, he, he, he’ YS neighed like a  horse.
‘What does that mean, he he he he ?’ I asked raising my eyebrows in consternation.
‘It means No’, pat came the reply.

Two  Rimcolians should never be allowed to fly together. I could not even bullshit YS, due to Rimcolian camaraderie. Just had to lump it, hoping I could  learn from him the art of investment banking and ‘Das Ka Bis, or at least convert me from ‘Unniz to Beez’, like my Fox Sqn senior, venerable ‘Ekkis’ who turned to ‘Bayees’.

So while YS sat reading a three months old ‘Financial Times’ (analysing share prices),  I climbed up to 8000’, tuned the radio  compass to Sarsawa and made the 162 nautical miles long  uneventful trip without  navigating, though the Chetak was behaving like a cocktail shaker making martini out of me. I collected the replacement Chetak  immediately but YS went home to  do ‘de-sludging’, pumping out the bilge, which took all afternoon. He returned with a smug very satisfied look, about 1’ 50” before sunset, with a bundle of 2 month’s backlog of  Financial Times and investment guide under his arm, material to destroy Paki economy in case we lost the war. There was barely enough time to get back to the featureless sandy terrain south of Suratgarh with no helipad, just bloody sand, before the sun set.

‘Do you want to fly ?, I asked  YS again, when we were strapped up.
‘He he he he he’, YS neighed like a  horse.
I didn’t ask what that meant. He had already told me earlier.

‘Look YS’, I told him. ‘While coming, it was easy to find Sarsawa. But now we have to go back and find the Op Location, the ruddy featureless sandy terrain south of Suratgarh with no helipad, just bloody sand, before the sun set. We have just this stupid B2 golf ball sized compass and it is going round and round seeking north, due to your magnetic personality. Please help me to navigate 162 nautical miles using eye ball Mark-1 and this moving thumb display’, I lamented, waggling my thumb.

‘OK, give me your map, I will do map reading’, he said with churlish Rimcolian camaraderie.  So I gave him my map, the 1935 edition standard Lambert’s Polygonic,  1: one million, where  earth is just a dot in the solar system. I got busy getting airborne and making a bee line for the  ruddy Op Location, the featureless sandy terrain south of Suratgarh with no helipad, just bloody sand.

‘Beware, Sirsa, Suratgarh and Bhatinda are active. Low level  fighter flying’, Sarsawa Air Traffic Control whispered in my ear like Nostradamus, and the radio went dead perhaps because it was shocked by Nostradamus . I should have turned around and gone back to Sarsawa, but I didn’t. I knew that if we turned back, YS will  go back home and by the time he finished de-sludging again and again, and finished analysing two month’s back log of share prices, the war would be over. So I just said ‘f*** it’, descended to 25’ feet above ground, where neither crows nor fighters dare to fly. I set course for the microscopic 'dead reckoning' point on the million map, that was our Op Location, the ruddy featureless sandy terrain south of Suratgarh with no helipad, just bloody sand, before the sun set, with YS doing map  reading.

I cut across the control zones of both Sirsa and S’Garh, with no radio contact, and only occasional ‘whisper contact’ with God. But even God was silent when I  whispered into his ear, like my wife when she had PMS and I had to resort to ‘Apna Hath Jaganath’, the moving thumb type. I had to go 162 nautical miles, at 90 knots, at 25 feet above ground, the setting sun shining right into my eyes, a flying time of about 1’ 50”, with 2’30” of  fuel before the fuel warning light came on, explicitly  demanding that I force land.

I knew that at 25 feet, at full pelt 90 kts, the orographic wind was not likely to take me off course. But the air driven gyro Direction Indicator (DI) was definitely going to lead my illustrious career astray, especially if I didn’t synchronise it with the B2 compass every few minutes. Since the B-2 was still going around seeking north, I neither had the DI nor the B2 golf ball to steer. I only had YS to save me, turn me from  ‘Unniz To Beez’

‘Are we on track ?’,  I would ask YS every few minutes  out of anxiety.
‘Yes Boos, Tickety Boo’, YS would respond.
I was very happy that I didn’t have to do mental  maths, 1/60 rule to figure out drift + closing angle to  get back on track. As we progressed, we buzzed trees and villages , and ducked under 33 & 66 kVA HT cables just close to the pylons, and didn’t bump into any crows or fighters. Soon, in the setting sun, the green countryside turned brown  and then yellow as we approached the deserts. Sand dunes started popping up and we pooped up with it . Went down when the dunes were not popping out like Champaign corks – a tactic called ‘nap of the earth flying’. I was hoping that all this excitement will enthuse YS to start flying and also help convert me from ‘Unniz to Beez’ in the share market.   

We flew along merrily for 1 hour and 50 minutes.
I began to look for our Op Location.
I didn’t find Father Brig, Mother Col GS or my venerable CO 104 waving out to me.
There was no sign of life, just sand dunes.

‘Where are we ?’ I asked YS with mounting trepidation. ‘Where the f*** are we ?’
‘Tickety Boo Boss’, YS answered.
That is when I noticed that YS was holding Lambert upside down, facing north when we were heading south. YS had no cue of map reading or moving thumb.
‘Jesus Christ’, I screamed.  ‘YS you bugger, where the f*** are we ?’
‘Don’t shout at me’, YS ordered. He promptly threw the map into my lap. He put on his reading glass and took out his share-market score card.
I pulled up, a better manoeuvre than to pile up.

It is difficult to fly at 25’ and do moving thumb display, especially when one is lost and don’t know where to poke the thumb into Lambert.
I called up Suratgarh hoping to get a homing or bearing, but the radio was silent.
I back tracked looking for something, it  didn’t matter what.
There was nothing to see except desert and a few Kikar trees here and there.
I flew around in  expanding circles hoping to see something, anything other than the dessert and Kikar trees that will get me find my destination.

I began to sweat profusely out of nervous tension.
I began to recite Hanuman Chalis, but immediately realised that Hanuman can’t hear me without the radio.
I tried to remember desert survival lessons;  water, food and shelter. We had none of these things on board.
I looked at the fuel gauge since looking at anything else was quite useless, I was absolutely lost.
We had about 20” fuel left.
The sun was about to set.

Then  I saw goats, a whole bunch of them and a single ‘Lambadi’ with a long stick herding them. Hanuman must have heard my Chalis, or Unnis, sent goats to guide me to Valhalla.

Immediately I descended and landed next to the Lambadi, kept the rotors running and told YS to hold on to the controls while I went to enquire from the Lambadi ‘where the f*** were we’.

The goats, a barking dog and the Lambadi started to run away.
I ran like Usain Bolt right after them and did a baseball tackle. The Lambadi started bashing my bone dome with his long stick thinking I was a Martian with the visor down over the Oxygen mask. The barking dog turned to a biting dog.  I took off the bone dome to look human, and wrenched the stick from the Lambadi, gave the dog a whack and a kick. It started yelping, making the sheep mad.

I let fly a few Punjabi epithets, just to sound human, making it sound like upper crust Mewari cum Marwari (‘Todde Ma Ki Dal’ /’Teri Pen De Ink’).  That helped convince the Lombard that I wasn’t Martian. Punjabi epithets help calm barking dogs and the sheep too.
‘Hukkum, Hukkum’, the Lambadi kept repeating senselessly, not understanding a word of any language I tried including ‘Punjab Ki Voh’.
So I gave up and returned to the helicopter.

When I strapped up again, I noticed the tiny little white lamb, amongst the bunch of black sheep. The bugger had high level of ‘Officer Like Qualities’ and was leading the pack.
I sat there for a while, looking at the direction they were going.
I picked up the helicopter and followed them, over taking them after a few minutes.

The sun set and the afterglow began to fade. Within minutes the desert became pitch dark.
Then in the distance I saw petro-max lamps,  several of them.
It was my Sqn deployed in a wady, adjacent to a hamlet with a well, from where the sheep had come.

When I landed, I didn’t have to switch off, the engine conked out on its own because the fuel had finished.

That night I made YS a ‘Char Sau Bis’ and made him sign for everyone’s drink, though he didn’t drink any.
He didn’t share his trade secrets, from share market, to  make me Unniz Ka Beez, I remained Unnis.
I don’t chant Hanuman’s Chalis anymore, the radio has quit.
So I chant ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep, Can You Show Me The Way’ !!!

I am still ‘Unnis’ and have not become ‘Beez’.


20 Feb 2017

My ‘Spider Man’ - Mohammad Ali

On the first day I reported to 43 Sqn, 46 years ago, everyone at Jorhat had ‘passed out’. Bhang, victory in war and Holi when combined, does that to everyone, they march off to Valhalla. I was then just 20 yrs old.

A young boy, perhaps around 15 or 16, came silently, picked up my steel trunk and hold all bag, put them on his head, and took them to a barely furnished TRS room with a toilet, which then became my ‘home’ for next five years. The young boy was a refugee from East Pak.  ‘Ami Mohammad Ali’, he said grabbing my hand and shaking it vigorously. He couldn’t speak a word of any language which I understood and looked like an undernourished monkey in torn and tattered unwashed clothes. He spread my ‘hold all’ on the nawar cot, took out  the extra bed sheet and pillow, and  moved in with me, under my bed. He then took over my life.

Ali had no relatives and nowhere to go.  Very quickly he put on weight, grew as tall as I, and took possession of everything I owned; my clothes, razor and after shave, flying overalls, Ray Ban, Akai Music System and took to wearing my formal mess dress, the ‘the white patrols’ with a side cap. ‘It has become  small for you, go make another one’ he ordered. Very quickly Ali learnt not only Hindi and a bit of English, but also to sign extra messing chits for  himself copying my signature, write dhobi list for both of our clothes, polish his shoes better than mine, fix our uniforms (my white patrols which wore with élan), clean our room and even demanded 15% of my Rs 330 salary as my 24x7 living-in soul mate; my exclusive ‘Spider Man’.

As bound to happen between comrades, he started keeping a tab on my GFs too. ‘Mem ya Phaltu ?’, he would enquire, and got pissed off if I ticked him off or told him to mind his own business, go and sleep  under someone else’s bed.  Everything concerning me was his only business. If I was happy he was happy, and sad when I was sad. When I went outstation, or on detachment, Ali would wear my flying overalls and surreptitiously board my aircraft. ‘Someone has to take care of Saheb, even in the air’, he would say if any one questioned. I was not allowed to question Ali. Soon Ali became my banker. He had converted my tiny Godrej shaving soap tin into a piggy bank, and always had Rs 5 of my own money to loan to me in crisis. Rs 5 was enough to conquer the world those days. When I became an Adjutant, Ali learnt AF Act 1950, AFOs, AFIs, and the fat AP-129 (aeronautical subjects), just to read the riot act to me if I wasn’t nice to him.  When I went on posting, Ali knew all about travel regulations, warrants and Form-Ds. ‘If the Government Sahiban allows you to carry a horse or mule on posting, what is your problem taking me with you ?’, he would ask. So Ali became my shadow, mentor and companion where ever I went.

After about eight years I decided to get married. Ali went around shouting ‘Mem Aa Raha Hai, Ab Se Sahib Ke Pas Phaltu Nahing Hoga’. Bloody rascal !!! 

After a week or so, he started scratching his head and when I enquired why, he told me that he too wanted a ‘Mem’, that he had someone in mind. So he loaded my Jawa dicky with 4 bottles of my Rum, put me behind my bike and took me to the village, wearing flying overalls and my Ray Ban. ‘Ladki Aur Uska Bap Ko Patao’, Ali ordered, ‘you are very experienced and like my father’, he added. So  after protracted negotiations for about an hour, fixing a bride price of 4 bottles of Rum, Ali was married to Bhanu, a young , simple, 16 yr old village lass. He wanted to bring Bhanu and set up  home under my bed. This time I read the riot act to him and very humbly suggested that he become a ‘Ghar Jamai’ with his new in laws in the village till I could find suitable accommodation for him in the Air Force camp. As  wedding present Ali appropriated my entire ‘Camp Kit’ and piggy bank,  and made me buy a cycle for him.  After that I went and got married to T and brought her back to  Chabua.

T & Ali hit it off from day one, mainly because he would regale her with never ending stories of my bachelor life and T was hell bent on hearing every word in the series of torrid stories. She said she wanted to get to know the man she married.  I was hoping to start with a clean slate and Ali was a strategic nuclear threat. He even offered to take T sightseeing on my mo-bike and introduce my old GFs. That is when I read the riot act the second time, and threatened to chop off Ali’s gonads. 

Ali remained my Jeeves, refusing to do anything unlawful which T ordered. He often quoted AF Act, 1/60 rule and even Vir Narayan’s Point of No Return formula.  Ali knew about those things more than I did.  But between Ali and I there was no law, just exemplary loyalty arising from gratitude. He was a refugee with no family, except me. Perhaps reason why he believed that everything that I had was his too. Ali worshipped T, followed her about like a Labrador puppy. When we were posted in NDA, I got Ali a job in MES, as an electrician. He was good at that sort of thing, short-circuiting my life. In due course, while I moved on, because Ali was intelligent, industrious and a good worker,  he rose to  be a foreman in GE’s staff in NDA. Bhanu and Ali reared five sons, all of them, Super-Men, the elder two joined the Indian Army.

When I took a PMR from AF in 1994, Ali heard about it and came to see me in Delhi. We sat and chatted about good old times. He expressed his wish to make a visit to B’Desh, ‘just to go see if there is any one left, and to check whether I still own the “Do Bigha’ that my father owned before the ‘Bhoka Choda’ killed him.  My sons must see where I came from.
‘Where do you come from?’, I asked after 23 years.
Ali was quiet for some time thinking. ‘I don’t know Sir’, he said sincerely.
‘Where do you come from ?’, Ali asked me in turn.
I sat there in the evening hours of my life, thinking. ‘I don’t know either Ali’, I said with equal sincerity. We were two flotsams from nowhere who met and fused as brothers.

Ali took his family and went back to B’Desh, never heard from his afterwards. Perhaps he went home, no longer a refugee. I am still  a refugee, hoping that I can find my roots, and that Ali would come back and sleep under my bed, to keep me safe and content, just the way  he did when we were young.

Cheers Mohammad Ali. I owe you.